Hiking in the mountains is hard work, and making sure that you get enough to eat during your adventures is no easy task. Meal planning is an essential skill for any trekker, but if you’re new to the pursuit, you might be asking yourself: “What food should I bring on a 3 day hike?”
There’s no set list of food that you should bring with you on a 3 day hike, but it helps to bring a mix of quick snacks, such as dried fruits and nuts, for on-trail munching and hearty meals, like mac and cheese and pancakes, for while you’re at camp. The most important thing is that you bring food that you enjoy and that you’ll actually want to eat while you’re outside.
We personally understand how difficult it can be to plan your food and meals for a 3 day hike. To help you out, we’ve put together a quick guide to everything you need to know about planning meals for a backpacking trip so you can eat well in the wilderness.
Food to bring on a 3 day hike:
The world is truly your oyster when it comes to planning meals for a 3 day backpacking trip. We can’t tell you precisely what you should eat in the mountains because it all depends on your personal tastes and cooking style.
Our advice is to stick with foods that you know and love but to come up with recipes that are easy to make in the mountains. If we were planning a 3 day backpacking trip, we’d follow the below meal plan.
- Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts
- Dehydrated hash browns
- Powdered eggs and cheese
- Tortillas with hummus (from hummus powder)
- Trail mix
- Dried fruit
- Energy bars (Larabars are our favorite!)
- Mac and cheese
- Rice with beans
- Lots of vegetables and cheese
Keep in mind that most of the food that we’ve listed above would probably be dehydrated in some form. For example, we’d get dehydrated veggies and powdered hummus rather than the fresh stuff for both food safety and packing convenient reasons.
We should also point out that we’re fans of eating real food in the mountains rather than instant or freeze-dried meals. That’s primarily because freeze-dried meals tend to be really expensive but also because we enjoy cooking. You can opt for freeze-dried meals if you want, but we personally opt to cook from scratch whenever possible.
How Much Food Do I Need for a 3 Day Hike?
Most people need about 2,500 to 4,500 calories per day while hiking, though this varies from person to person. But since counting calories isn’t exactly a fun or efficient way to figure out how much food you need for a 3 day hike, many backpackers use either a weight-based or meal-based planning system instead.
Meal-based food planning is particularly popular among backpackers heading out on relatively short overnight trips (think 1 to 5 nights). It’s a simple and convenient way to plan out precisely what you’ll eat at every meal so you can take the guesswork out of cooking while you hike.
In a meal-based food planning system, you’ll simply make a list of all the meals that you’ll eat during your trip and pack accordingly. For example, on a 3 day hiking trip, you’ll probably have to plan for the following meals:
- Day 1 – Lunch & Dinner
- Day 2 – Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
- Day 3 – Breakfast & Lunch
Of course, the above plan assumes that you’ll start hiking on the morning of Day 1 and that you’ll be at the trailhead by dinnertime on Day 3. But it gives you a general idea of how many meals you need to pack for. Once you know what meals you want to eat, you simply need to bring enough ingredients so you can cook healthy portions of all your meals.
The other meal planning strategy is what we call the pantry or weight-based approach. With this approach, you bring a set amount of food per person per day of your trip and that’s what you use to guide your packing.
As a general rule, most people on summertime backpacking trips need about 1.5 to 2 lbs of food per person per day (you can increase or decrease these amounts as needed, but they’re a good guideline for most backpackers). If you wanted to head out on a 3 day hiking trip, you’d probably need 4.5 to 6 lbs of food (not counting the weight of any food storage containers).
But we should point out two key aspects of the pantry food planning method.
First, with this method, instead of packing individual meals, you’ll bring “pantry” items like oats, pasta, tortillas, and other ingredients that you could use to whip together whatever meal you fancy at any given moment. This strategy takes a lot of time to perfect and it requires a lot of creativity on your part, so it’s not ideal for everyone.
Second, the weight-based strategy is best for longer hiking trips, like week-long adventures or thru-hikes where you don’t want to plan out all of your meals in advance. It’s a great option if you want to keep your pack weight down but proceed with caution as it’s a tricky strategy to learn. For more guidance, check out the NOLS website for books and articles describing this method in detail.
How Do You Pack Food For a Multi-Day Hike?
To pack food for a multi-day hike, you’ll almost always want to remove the food from its original container and then re-pack it into a resealable plastic bag or plastic jar. This helps to lower your pack weight and it reduces the amount of trash that you’ll have to pack out at the end of your trip.
If you want to avoid using a lot of single-use plastics for repacking your backpacking food, consider using reusable plastic Nalgene jars or reusable silicone Ziploc-style bags, instead.
When it comes to actually packing food into your backpack, you’ll need to be strategic. If you have to bring a bear canister, pack as much of the food as you can into the canister and then place the canister in your backpack. You can then fill in the empty space around the canister with your clothing and other gear.
If you don’t have to bring a bear canister for your multi-day hike, you can pack your food directly into your backpack. We recommend first packing heavy food (think cheese, peanut butter, etc.) toward the bottom of your pack as this prevents your bag from becoming top-heavy. Then fill in the extra space with the rest of your food and with your clothing and gear until you have a well-packed pack that’s ready for the trail.
The Art of Meal Planning for Backpacking
Meal planning for backpacking trips is an art form and skill that takes time to hone. Keep things simple at first and bring more food than you think you need until you build up the confidence to experiment with different meals and planning styles.
Either way, remember to bring food that you’ll actually want to eat so you can stay energized throughout all your adventures. See you in the mountains!
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.